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Riverkeepers are growing more concerned over microplastics in waterways

North Carolina Waterkeepers are kicking off a two-year study examining the effect litter is having on killing crucial parts of our ecosystem.
Published: Mar. 2, 2021 at 7:13 PM EST
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ONSLOW COUNTY, N.C. (WITN) - Litter is becoming a massively pervasive problem in North Carolina, according to environmentalists.

So much so, a $188,000 project is kicking off across the state to measure the impact the tiniest parts of the trash is having on polluting our waterways and killing crucial parts of our ecosystem.

“I’m hopeful that we’ll find none, but I’m expecting to find some,” said Crystal Coast Waterkeeper Larry Baldwin. “We know it’s a problem. It’s unquestionably a problem.

The two-year study is testing just how big of an issue microplastics are becoming in rivers across the state. The New River is one of 30 locations being tested for the particles.

“Plastic doesn’t actually break down,” said Baldwin. “It breaks apart into smaller and smaller sizes.”

Environmentalists are hoping the testing of the waterways will provide specific data to determine what needs to be done to curb littering across the state.

“Businesses and local municipalities can take action to limit their single-use and their dependence on plastic,” said Haw River Waterkeeper Emily Sutton.

The samples will be collected for a year and sent to labs in Wilmington. There, they’ll be tested to see just how big of a problem it is.

“We are, unfortunately, fearful that this problem is bigger than most people want to admit,” said Baldwin. “The trash issue in North Carolina is out of control. You cannot drive along the road anywhere in North Carolina without seeing trash. It doesn’t have to be that way. It really doesn’t.”

After a year, a filter will be placed on the rivers being tested to collect larger pieces of plastic. Then, samples will be collected for another year to test the effects of the filters on the levels of microplastics.

The litter breaks down to a point so small it becomes invisible to the eye but can be easily ingested by aquatic wildlife. And, for them, it can be deadly.

“They’re small enough, though, that even the aquatic life here are unknowingly ingesting these microplastics,” said Baldwin. “And it’s something we can control.

The study was given a $188,000 grant, partially from Attorney General Josh Stein’s office to pursue the research.

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